HARDY PERENNIALS: PAEONIA

Paeonies are amongst the longest lived of plants, and should be planted for permanence, because they prefer to be left alone— for fifty years if need be and because of this a site should be carefully chosen. Paeonies need an open situation and good deep soil—regardless of texture or alkalinity. They do in fact like lime, and flower best if given top dressing of fertiliser in late summer or early autumn when new feeding roots begin again. This too, is the best planting time, and nursery grown plants—not newly cut up divisions will give best results. Paeonies can be divided but it calls for skill with a knife and one should not expect flowers in its first season. Planting depth is important. The pinkish crown buds on which next seasons growth depends should be settled at no more than one inch below surface after firming round the plant. The largest flowered Paeonies are the P. lactiflora varieties which flower in June. These are mostly doubles of which P. /estiva maxima, P. ‘Sarah Bernhardt’, and others illustrated are good examples. A vast range of varieties exists, apart from those basic colours of red, pink and white, some having merging shades and others with a deeper base.

A very old clump of Paeonia

A very old clump of Paeonia

There are some fine single and semi double varieties in this range also of which P. ‘King Arthur’ is a good example, with its gold centre on a dark red background. P. ‘Bowl of Beauty’ has huge flowers of rose pink in which the creamy centre stands out, and P. ‘Defender’ has massive blood red flowers. Some white varieties shade towards creamy yellow in the centre, but the self coloured single P. mloko-sewitschii is a glistening colour. This is a much sought after plant despite its difficult name, not only because of its colour but because it flowers in April-May, before any others.

Other earlier Paeonies include the limited range of P. officinalis— mostly doubles in pink, white and red, flowering in May at 3 feet. Then there are one or two brilliant P. lobata varieties, single salmon red in the 2 feet high P. ‘Sunshine’, and the single red P. smouthii and the deep pink P. arietina are charming. Well grown plants of Paeonies may be more expensive to buy, but when one considers the returns over a period of many years, then they become a very good investment.

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